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I, um, hope there isn't already a topic on this. I searched, but the search engine lately doesn't want to give me anything remotely useful, so.... If there is already a topic, I'll be glad to relocate this post there.

I'm in the process over at my 'blog of going over the past decade and counting down the most important voices ('blogs, books, movies, and albums) that helped shape me into the person I am today. Here's my poston books (no fiction, because most of the fiction I read was much older than a decade--think Faulkner and Dostoevsky). This is different from the "top five" thread for obvious reasons; the books here are limited to the years from 2000/2001-2009. (There are quotes showing passages I particularly like over at my 'blog, but this post is already long enough, so I cut them).

My top five personally influential books of the decade are:

5. The European Dream by Jeremy Rifkin. I was already, without knowing it, getting pretty liberal when I took "20th Century World History" at Covenant. It was in the middle of the last election (only last year? Really?) and I was getting pretty fed up with cries of "Socialism." Eurosocialism, I discovered, was a very different thing from what Conservative pundits claimed--it actually, y'know, works and stuff. Wanting to know more, I asked my professor for a book recommendation and he suggested "The European Dream" with the caution that Rifkin is, perhaps, a tad too enthusiastic. Enthusiastic, yes--but I found much to enthuse with Rifkin about. He pointed away from the narrow American individualistic/Capitalistic model and toward a more communitarian and, it seemed to me--and in spite of the irreligious nature of Europe today--a more Christian way of organizing human society. No one claims Europe is perfect, but the system there has a lot to recommend it.

4. A Scandalous Freedom by Steve Brown. Brown critiques the tendency, even in "grace alone through faith" Reformed circles, to place requirements and rules for how Christians should act. For Brown, this pulls us right out of grace and back into works-based spirituality. It pushes us into the position of "waiting for the shoe to drop" rather than enjoying the fact that we are God's children. It was enormously freeing to read; up to that point, all my interests had been (as I've indicated before, elsewhere)primarily in the Rushdoony-and-theonomy camp. Brown stood as a rebuke to all that nonsense, a thoroughly Reformed rebuke at that, and he gave me ways to express the already-stirring discontents I had with the more "Truly Reformed" members of the faith. Since reading this book I've moved in a distinctly leftward direction and I think Brown (who describes himself as so conservative he thinks Limbaugh is a Communist) would get a kick out of the fact that this book helped start me on that path.

3. Blue Like Jazz

by Donald Miller. I realize I'm getting myself stuck with the hipster crowd on this one but, hey, I already identify as post-evangelical, so I guess I'm in for it. The truth is, "Blue Like Jazz" came along at exactly the right point (actually, at exactly the same point as the number one book on this list) and crystallized several vague discontents I was already feeling about religion in general. It isn't deep theology--and Miller would never claim that it is--but it is deep confession, an acknowledgment of the vacillating, uncertain nature of faith in our world. It bothered me at the time, how fast-and-loose Miller played with theological distinctions, but it also pushed me to think outside of theological boxes. It certainly prepared me to be receptive to the voices of the various feminist, post-modern, and existentialist scholars I read later in college. If my guess is correct, in the future Miller will prove to have been formative in the development of many young people around my age as they struggled to escape the slow death of the evangelical movement.

2. "Surprised by Hope" by N.T. Wright. Wright didn't say anything that centuries of serious Christians haven't said, but he said it in the face of a Christianity that is increasingly inclined to deny hope, to suppose that the only "hope" we have in this world is that Jesus will take us away from this mess. I'll confess, one of the principle draws of Rushdoony et al back in the day was the fact that they (unlike, say Tim LaHaye) offered an opportunity to not only survive but to prevail. Wright offers that same opportunity, but he does it in a thoroughly Christian manner; that is, he does not find the triumph of the Gospel in the imposition of "Biblical Law" but in the renewing and regenerating work of God as seen, particularly, in the resurrection of Christ. For Wright, it's not about control, but about empowering individuals to live lives of interconnectedness. He's also quick to point out that "conservative" theology is often really a tool to maintain Western ascendancy. No wonder he's controversial!

1. Everyday Apocalypse by David Dark. I cannot overstate how important this book was to me. When I read it, I had only a passing familiarity with any of the "pop culture icons" Dark discusses; however, his articulation of the apocalyptic mindset changed my brain. It came at exactly the right time--I had just started at Gadsden State, and was just beginning to shed (without realizing I was shedding) the theonomic baggage I had taken onto myself when I decided to be a Calvinist. And even better than upending my understanding of what art does and how the Sacred can come crashing into this world, "Everyday Apocalypse" planted a time-bomb in my consciousness that exploded four years later when I re-read it--interacting through some alchemical method with my college reading and sending me hurtling, again, toward new horizons of understanding. For a 156-page book, that's not bad. Be sure to check out Dark's other books, as well--"The Gospel According to America" and "The Sacredness of Questioning Everything."


So, anyone else? What books published in this decade have personally shaped/informed you?

Edited by NBooth
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Really glad to see your number 3, and your number two I've been meaning to get from the library for some time now.

For me, it is any of the McLaren or Bell books. If I had to pick one from each, it would be McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian," and Bell's "Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile."

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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  • 8 months later...

I'll add a few to the list -

Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography - by William F. Buckley, Jr. (2004) - I'm still in the process of trying to collect all of Buckley's books (I believe there are about 60 of them). I honestly believe he wrote some of the best English prose of his generation. But it's not just his love of words, his politics or his sense of humor that makes his writing so compelling, it's the history. Buckley knew how to tell a good story, and his stories range from dangerous sailing yarns to visiting the Pope with David Niven, to skying in Switzerland with John Kenneth Galbraith, his personal friendship with Whittaker Chambers, growing up in a very large chaotic but traditional family, flying and promptly crashing a small plane, playing Johan Sebastian Bach on the harpischord (without knowing how to play the harpischord), her personal friendship with Ronald Reagan, growing up with a father who got kicked out of Mexico for trying to start a revolution, reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy with his son Christopher during a spiritual crisis, fighting for particular ideas as early as elementary school debate competitions, being shipped off to boarding school in England, more sailing, and generally traveling all across the world including stints to the Soviet Union and Red China, being driven to become a writer from his frustration while attending Yale University, and starting a small little upstart magazine. It's been awhile, but I remember simply loving it. His writing style is a joy for anyone who loves the English language. But most of all, every single part of the book, whether he's discussing the advantages and disadvantages of keeping watch at night on his sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, or whether he's figuring out how to explain what he believes to be a very simple economic principle to an audience who probably skipped economics classes in college - it's all enthused with a energetic sense of fun. You can tell you loved what he was doing, and he loved writing about it. He's probably influenced me more than any other writer of the last 2 or 3 decades actually. If you've never read his writing before, Miles Gone By is a great place to start.

Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century - by Hunter S. Thompson (2003) - Night and day different from Buckley, I know, but Hunter S. Thompson knew how to write some damn good columns too. Looks like this as close as we'll get to any autobiographical work from Thompson, but it's a great read as well. Something about Thompson philosophically and insightfully explaining how our culture and society has slowly changed over time while at the same time giving crazy story after story about politics, sports, brushes with law enforcement, bikers, drugs, drinking, more drugs, and an incredibly keen insight on our government and court system. He amazes me every time I read him, and this is my favorite of his of the last decade.

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I'm not sure I'm getting the purpose of this list. "Personally influential"? Maybe Never Let Me Go, although I sense you're looking for nonfiction titles. EDIT: Ah, yes, I see: No fiction.

The best book I read this decade, and the one that was most informative, is Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower. It qualifies as "transformative" in how it influenced my view of Muslim culture and conflict.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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That's the kind of thing I was getting at; books that changed the way you/we/I thought about things. The Looming Tower would be a prime example (looks interesting, too--I'm going to have to sample it).

Interesting to see Buckley and Thompson sharing a post; I'm curious whether those books "talked" to each other in the way that books sometimes do (I recently read The Trouble with Principle and Orthodoxy fairly close together, and Fish and Chesterton chatted up a storm).

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